In a recent interview (which you can watch here), Rachael Denhollander, who spoke in court against the sexual-abuser-disguised-as-a-doctor Larry Nassar, talked about the horrific ignoring, enabling, and victim-blaming that has been perpetrated in USA Gymnastics and at Michigan State University (which she detailed in her victim-impact statement). Here are her words in that interview:
Both organizations have said, “We’re going to move forward. We want to be a safe place.” But until they can acknowledge what they have done wrong, I have no hope that they are really moving forward.
The words that she applied to those two organizations, I want to apply to two other organizations.
Sovereign Grace Ministries
Even though this organization went through a court case in which a former youth worker of theirs was condemned for decades of sexual assault, there was no significant acknowledgement outside the courtroom that the men who ran the organization had done wrong. Even though a formal complaint was registered with the court system regarding many more alleged perpetrators than just this one, there was still no public acknowledgement of wrongdoing by the leaders of the organization.
In fact, the wagon-circlers among the conservative Reformed evangelical leaders in their move-along-people-nothing-to-see-here fashion, told their readers, for example, that they would be best served by not learning too much about this situation, as if to imply that their readers would never no never be aware of any actual real-life person who had been abused in the context of any church or organization related to Sovereign Grace Ministries.
So it happened that pastors received the impression, from that source and many others, that they would be wiser to avoid reading the Second Amended Class-Action Complaint, which actually all of us would do well to read in order to acknowledge and honor those who were victimized in this context, which you can see here.
So I paraphrase Rachael’s words to leaders of Sovereign Grace Ministries (now called Sovereign Grace Churches): “Until you can actually acknowledge what you’ve done wrong, there are those of us who have no hope that you are really moving forward.”
Bob Jones University
This very conservative fundamentalist organization went through an investigation (by the GRACE independent investigators) into their miserable mishandling of sexual abuse reports (including abuse on campus, including at least one on-campus rape) that produced a three-hundred-page report telling them what they had done wrong and what they should do to make it right, which you can read at the link on this page here.
But in spite of all this, the only apology offered was a weak one by a president who had been installed only months before it was time to apologize, not by the people who had actually done wrong. At least one man who had committed what appeared to be the vast majority of shaming, blaming, and re-victimizing told me personally he wouldn’t publicly acknowledge his wrong or ask forgiveness.
The many men and women who reported about their abuse to the investigating organization (G.R.A.C.E., founded by Boz Tchividjian) were largely ignored (though there was a brief window of time when they could speak to the new president personally so he could personally say he was sorry for something he hadn’t done).
So I paraphrase Rachael’s words to the appropriate leaders of Bob Jones University: “Until you can truly acknowledge what you’ve done wrong, there are those of us who have no hope that you are really moving forward.”
(And I’ll add that the ones avoiding the truth about abuse in Christian organizations, pretending everything is fine and shaming survivors are in fact some of the very same people who laud those like Rachael Denhollander who come forward about abuse in the context of gymnastics.)
I know this statement could be repeated over and over and over for many Christian organizations. Will you continue to hide your wrongdoing? Will you continue to send the most vulnerable away from Christianity instead of drawing them to the loving Shepherd of their souls?
May it never be. Instead, publicly confess your wrongdoings and how you’ve hurt others, and step down from ministry. Encourage the people around you to listen to those who have been abused instead of what you and your supporters have been doing: continuing to ignore them and blame them, telling them they’ll “never be satisfied,” and even calling them names.
This is not the heart of Jesus. This is not who Jesus is. If you know Him, show us by doing the right thing.
Go here to download your free Guide, How to Enjoy the Bible Again (when you’re ready) After Spiritual Abuse (without feeling guilty or getting triggered out of your mind). You’ll receive access to both print and audio versions of the Guide (audio read by me). I’m praying it will be helpful.
Thank you! Thank you so much for saying this — and giving voice to some of what’s been burning in my heart watching this Nassar case unfold. Why is it that on the one hand, there is an outcry (from the secular world) for the president of MSU to resign, while so much of the Christian world responded to the GRACE report with indifference, or sprang to the defense of the institution that committed the exact same offense (shaming victims and sheltering not just one, but multiple, abusers)?
When I was a small child at BJES (Bob Jones Elementary School), I was taught the rhyme: “Your talk talks and your walk talks; but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.” I’m tired of hearing “talk” from BJU (and their constituency), while their “walk” says something so completely different. Because of their “walk” regarding the GRACE report (and much of their “talk”), I no longer consider BJU to be a Christian institution: the fruit of Christ-likeness simply isn’t there! We could have gotten a more compassionate response from a secular university.
Part of me wishes that the Board, and administration (past and present), and everyone named in the GRACE report had to sit, day after day, in a public courtroom while all the survivors who wanted were given the opportunity to make impact statements. To have a voice. To be heard. Without having to talk over the moralistic rhetoric of image-management echoed by a Greek chorus of constituents more interested in maintaining their comfort zone than hearing the truth or protecting souls.
I do believe that there is One Who has heard our voices. And, thankfully, there are some of His faithful followers willing to hear and to speak. But, oh, the betrayal of those who have hushed, and covered, and ignored!
This is exactly what I’ve wished for, BJU Survivor. That the BJU leaders (and SGM leaders) would be required to sit while hearing victim-impact statements that are broadcast to all. (I’ve certainly heard plenty of victim-impact statements myself, some in the middle of the night over Messenger or email, some during lengthy phone calls, and some in person over coffee or in a more private setting. I have heard so many.)
And yes, the betrayal has been very great. I feel like I hear a collective groan from people I care deeply about when I watch the Christian world lauding the gymnastics survivors, so many of them the same Christians who have turned away from the church and Christian school survivors and left them out in the cold.
It’s so horrifying to me that what you say rings completely true – this should not at all be true, but the gut-wrenching truth is that these so-called “Christian” universities are the farthest from what Christ preached, and the Bible teaches, and you are absolutely correct when you say these victims would have found a more compassionate response from a secular university. That should not be so – if someone is a true Christian, they will be a place of safety, comfort, compassion, for the victim, they should be a strong supporter of justice, instead of trying to cover up the wrong-doing. A part of me prays that they won’t repent, won’t get to see the goodness and grace of God, but another part of me hopes that they will see their wrongdoing and come forward, confess, repent, and reconcile. This has not gone away and justice has not been carried out as far as these filthy organizations (as well as ones like Doug Wilson or Mark Driscoll) are concerned, and if it weren’t for God and His Word, I would have long ago despaired. I take hope in the fact that when they die, they will get the punishment they deserved, and they will pay for all of eternity for the reviling things they did.
Thank you for writing this! As some one who was sexually harassed by a person at BJU, only to have to sit across from him in the Dean’s Office and have him be told to apologize to me and then be asked if I accepted his apology (and what poor student, sitting in the office in the same situation as I was, wouldn’t “accept” the apology because they felt pressured to or that it was somehow the only “Christian” thing to do), I never participated in the GRACE report because I was afraid that BJU would only do what they ended up doing. I am thankful for people who are willing to speak up and confront those who are still so determined to sweep these crimes under the rug.
It breaks my heart to have to say that not participating in the GRACE report might have been the wiser move, for one’s own sanity and safety.
My husband was a 2011 graduate of Bob Jones. He could write a book about all the sexual abuse horrors he witnessed on campus. We used to live in Greenville, and moved back to the Midwest near my family a year ago. The entire BJU culture felt like a cult. Disgusting!
It breaks my heart the way Bob Jones University handled the GRACE report.
There is a reason I have distanced myself from chuchiness: because churches more often than not are not Christian, they are cults.
True Christianity can, ironically, exist only when there is no “Christian” leadership.
“I know this statement could be repeated over and over and over for many Christian organisations.”
That’s for sure! And not just regarding sexual abuse – for many other types of abuse, too! There are far too many ‘christian leaders’ who care more about their “authority” and position, than they do about the pain and suffering of the abused. Like the priest and the Levite, they see the broken, bleeding bodies lying by the side of the road, and choose to gather their robes around them and cross over on the other side. But as Rachael Denhollander said, “It defies the gospel of Christ when we do not call out abuse and enable abuse in our own church.”
[…] A follow-up post about Rachael Denhollander can be found here. […]